Public education serves the public good
I read with interest Patricia Patnode’s recent guest op-ed regarding school choice (“Iowa Students and Parents Deserve School Choice,” January 25). with vouchers, “scholarships”, home-schooling or other models – serves the public less well.
For starters, private education money is money taken from public schools. This raises concerns about how far Iowa wants to go to divert funds from public schools to provide alternative educational options and what standard expectations need to be put in place to ensure we don’t lose sight of the role of l education for the public good.
I suggest at least three aspects of public education that support the public good: 1. developing an understanding of civic life and democratic government; 2. Create a sense of cohesion and understanding among the diversity of people who make up our citizens; 3. Develop the analytical and critical thinking skills essential for navigating today’s computing environment.
In a landmark document titled “For the Common Good: Recommitting to Public Education in Times of Crisis,” the Center for Education Policy states, “Our democracy depends on having educated citizens who understand political and social issues and who exercise the right to vote, act to protect their rights and freedoms, and resist tyrants and demagogues”. It has been a standard of public education since the days of Horace Mann, who served as secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education (1837 to 1848) and advocated for public schools that adhere to specific principles. Mann was reacting to the state of education in his day when school was often religious, home-based, or exclusive. To paraphrase, he said education should be paid for by the public; that these schools should accommodate children of all religious, social and ethnic origins; that this education must be free from any sectarian religious influence; that these schools must adopt the spirit, methods and disciplines of a free society; and that such education can only be provided by well-trained professional teachers. While we live in very different times, these principles still seem relevant.
Today we live in a divided, divisive and polarized society. Some of these divisions may be the result of us remaining in our own ideological, ethnic, economic and racial bubbles. A consequence of such isolation can be a lack of appreciation and understanding – or even fear – of those who are different from us. This fear, at worst, can translate into hatred. Public schools are often one of the first places where children have the opportunity to interact with, befriend, agree or disagree with, and understand people from different backgrounds in the world. their. Private education, including home schooling, can result in students being reunited only with others like them. This may reduce children’s opportunities for interaction and opportunities to develop their understanding and appreciation of people who are different from themselves. They can become the exclusive schools that Horace Mann saw in his time, whether based on religion or other societal dimensions.
We live in a universe of information – and misinformation – that intensifies our divisions as a society. Just as the public good is not served well by isolating children from those who are different from themselves, so the public good is not served by polarizing media or single-perspective information, regardless of the direction in which they lean. Media is unlikely to change, so it is important that we help children and young people become informed consumers of information. It is the role of public education to help students develop the skills to discern fact from opinion, recognize bias, and seek evidence-based information. Exposure to a variety of viewpoints and the development of skills as critical readers, listeners and viewers are key reasons why public schools are required to have qualified libraries and librarians who teach the skills of mastery of information.
Finally, there is the question of what we mean by public good. Simply put, serving the public good requires us to think about our collective selves, not just ourselves. Newsweek columnist Robert J. Samuelson once wrote, “We face a choice between a society where people accept modest sacrifices for a common goal or a more contentious society where groups selfishly protect their own benefits.
Lillian Katz of the University of Illinois rightly said, “We must recognize that the well-being of our own children is intimately tied to the well-being of all other people’s children. After all, when one of our children needs life-saving surgery, someone else’s child will perform it. When one of our children is hurt by violence, someone else’s child will have done it. The good life of our own children can only be ensured if it is also ensured for all the children of others.
As we contemplate the future of public education in Iowa, let’s not lose sight of the importance of the public good. Putting the public good first can be our best solution to the divisive issues we face today – and the public good is well served when we support public education.
Jean Donham is a retired University of Northern Iowa professor living in Iowa City.